On rainy days, there’s often nothing nicer than curling up in front of the TV to watch an old black-and-white movie – the quaint accents, the dated slang, the glamorous style of it all. This was Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age – when stars still possessed the mystique that contributes to their continuing allure today.
One of my favourite stars from the era was Cary Grant – he epitomises the glamour, charm, and suave sensuality of the time. Yet despite his classic good looks and hugely successful career, his was not always a simple life – yet he navigated its ups and downs with considerably more aplomb than many modern “stars” could ever dream of.
The man known to millions as Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach on 18th January 1904, in Bristol, England. His childhood was marred by his mother’s severe depression and the actions of his father, who put her in an institution but told young Archie she was gone on an extended holiday (he didn’t see her again until well into adulthood). At the age of 16, Archie ran away to America as part of a circus troupe, and eventually decided to stay. His training in acrobatics, mime, and other circus skills later translated into the easy physicality of his film performances – and his willingness to do his own stunts.
After appearing in a handful of Broadway musicals, Archie Leach moved to Hollywood in 1931. Initially signing with Paramount Pictures, he changed his name at the studio’s request. It was hoped the initials CG would prove as lucky for him as they already had for Clark Gable and Gary Cooper – two of the era’s biggest stars.
The newly christened Cary Grant had his first starring role alongside Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus (1932). He appeared in a couple of Mae West films that further boosted his reputation before cementing his role as a comic leading man in the 1937 films The Awful Truth and Topper. He went on to immense stardom in films such as Bringing Up Baby (1939), The Philadelphia Story (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), and An Affair to Remember (1957), as well as several Hitchcock thrillers, including To Catch a Thief (1955) and North by Northwest (1959).
Although he received countless award nominations throughout his life, Grant never won an Academy Award – until 1970, when he was honoured with an Oscar for lifetime achievement. In many other ways his career was unconventional – for instance, he was the first actor to break with the studio contract system and go freelance, meaning he could choose the films and people with which he wished to work, and in later years he refused a number of plum roles on the grounds that he was too old.
In 1966, at the age of 62, Grant retired from film to devote himself full time to bringing up his daughter Jennifer, born that year. Although he had been married five times and had relationships with countless leading ladies (and according to persistent rumours, several leading men), she was his only child.
Jennifer later said in an interview that Grant kept mementoes of her childhood in a specially built vault in his house – perhaps after his own childhood souvenirs were lost when Bristol was bombed in World War II. Cary Grant did return to his hometown throughout his life. His choice of Bristol hotels was the Royal Hotel, now the Bristol Marriott Royal. In 2001, a statue of the actor was unveiled in Millennium Square, Bristol, to commemorate the city’s most famous son.
In later years, he went on tour with his one-man show, A Conversation With Cary Grant, which gave his fans the chance to ask him questions. It was shortly before one of these performances that he collapsed in his dressing room, and later died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 29th November, 1986, at the age of 82. Over a quarter century after his death, he is still frequently cited as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history, and his films continue to be watched and appreciated as timeless classics – check out our video playlist for a sample of some of our favourites.
What is your favourite Cary Grant film? Let us know in the comments below – or vote in our poll!
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